"Father of genius" in St Patrick's Day tribute for Parsonage's Patrick Brontë: In His Own Right

By Ben Miller | 16 March 2011
A black and white photo of an 18th century man in profile
Patrick Brontë is remembered on the 150th anniversary of his death© Brontë Parsonage Museum
Exhibition: Patrick Brontë: In His Own Right, Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, from March 17 2011

The courtship between Patrick Brontë, the father of the famous literary sisters, and his future wife, Maria Branwell, was a passionate one if the star exhibit here is anything to go by.

In one of the few surviving letters written by Mrs Brontë she addresses her lover as “My Dear Saucy Pat”, although that level of intimacy is far removed from the dearth of accounts recording his life on the 150th anniversary of his death.

Brontë was born in a small cabin in Ireland as the eldest son of a poor farmer, but is described as being “highly ambitious, enthusiastic and intelligent”, reflected in the place he won at Cambridge University, where he wanted to pursue a career in the church.

After moving to England he settled at the Yorkshire Parsonage and never returned to the Emerald Isle.

“This exhibition is a first for the museum,” says Andrew McCarthy, the museum director who will launch this retrospective of an Irish eccentric on St Patrick’s Day, the day Patrick was born in 1777.

“Understandably, there’s been a tendency to focus on Patrick’s famous daughters and their great literary achievements, but Patrick was an extraordinary figure in his own right – as an author, scholar, clergyman, and social campaigner, as well as the father and educator of his remarkable children.”

When Maria died suddenly, Patrick raised six young children on his own, including Anne, Charlotte and Emily.

Letters documenting his involvement in Charlotte Brontë’s biography, which he asked Elizabeth Gaskell to write after outliving all of his kin, are among several important loans from the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, accompanied by others from the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds.

“This exhibition is long overdue,” adds McCarthy.

“It will give visitors an insight not only into Patrick as the ‘father of genius’, but also into his own fascinating background and his prominent role within 19th century Haworth.”

  • Open 10am-5.30pm (11am-5pm October-March). Admission £3.60-£6.80 (free for under-5s, family ticket £15).
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